Sheena Easton might have invented the idea of the fact TV pop star, however what number of of them went on to work with legends like Prince and Nile Rodgers? In 2016, Simon Button met the Scots singer who rocked the spandex look higher than anybody…
She’s the lady from a small Scottish city who, simply a few months shy of her twenty second birthday, turned solely the third ever UK feminine to high the American charts. However for Sheena Easton, becoming a member of Petula Clark and Lulu within the report books was all a little bit of a blur.
“I actually don’t recall what it felt like,” the singer says of reaching pole place within the Billboard Scorching 100 with Morning Practice (retitled from 9 To five to keep away from any confusion with the Dolly Parton tune) in early 1981.
“There was a lot happening, with a lot promotion to do, that I didn’t have time to essentially take all of it in.”
For Sheena, who discovered fame by way of the Esther Rantzen-produced TV present The Massive Time the earlier yr, 9 To five was the reward that saved on giving.
A No. 3 UK smash after the present aired, it went on to high the charts in Australia, Canada and New Zealand and likewise made the High 10 in Belgium, Eire and Switzerland.
Removed from being a one-hit marvel, she’d go on to have 14 High 40 singles within the States and promote greater than 20 million data, notching up two Grammy wins from six nominations.
Her chart profession within the UK was much less illustrious, most likely as a result of she upped sticks for America as quickly as she hit massive over there, however her return to those shores to star as over-the-hill diva Dorothy Brock in a splashy revival of the musical forty second Road has been producing numerous buzz – proving that the wee Scots lass (she’s 5ft 1ins tall) is way from forgotten.
After we meet in a London rehearsal house the place Sheena is prepping for her West Finish debut, she’s definitely not over the hill herself.
At 57, she’s trying fabulous (the title of her final album again in 2000), point out of which elicits an “Oh, please!” that sounds precisely just like the one she did on her Prince duet U Bought The Look.
Humorous and trustworthy, there’s nothing she received’t speak about – be it rumours she’s a property millionaire (not true), her 4 failed marriages (which she places all the way down to horrible style in males), hypothesis that she and Prince have been extra than simply studio buddies (they weren’t), even her bizarre Scottish-American hybrid accent.
“It’s so tousled,” she laughs, “however that’s what comes from residing over there for thus lengthy.”
It’s the profession we’re most to speak about, although, and it’s fascinating to listen to Easton say that – regardless of a killer voice she’s been protecting supple by means of her Vegas reveals and live performance appearances since she stopped recording 17 years in the past – there’s no method she’d need to be a pop ingénue now.
“There’s a lot that’s completely different. I don’t suppose there’s as a lot of an funding in new artists,” says the girl who was nurtured by EMI and showcased on a nationwide TV present lengthy earlier than the arrival of YouTube and social media.
“You’re anticipated to return out of the field with a success and preserve going – and there’s a lot self-promotion it’s a must to do.”
It’s been forgotten, maybe, that Sheena Easton didn’t have a success straight out of the field. Her debut single Trendy Lady got here out in February 1980 and solely made it to No. 56 – however then her episode of The Massive Time aired, the tune was re-released and it charted at No. 8 concurrently 9 To five was peaking at No. 3.
That, amazingly, made her the primary UK feminine since Ruby Murray to have multiple tune within the High 10 on the similar time.
Like Belfast-born Murray, Sheena got here from a working-class background. The youngest of six kids, the metal mill employee’s daughter was born Sheena Shirley Orr in Bellshill, a small city 10 miles outdoors Glasgow that’s additionally introduced us alt-rockers The Soup Dragons and Teenage Fanclub.
She was singing from the age of 5 and had finished college productions and the like however hadn’t thought-about a profession in music till she heard Barbra Streisand singing over the opening credit of The Means We Have been when it performed on the native cinema in 1972.
“Streisand’s voice got here on, so loud and highly effective,” she remembers, “and that’s once I realised I wished to be that particular person and make another person sitting in an viewers someplace really feel like that. That was once I first thought ‘I need to do that on a big scale’.”
After leaving college she attended the Royal Scottish Academy Of Music And Drama in Glasgow, the place she educated as a speech and drama trainer whereas honing her vocal chops on the native membership scene in a band named One thing Else. In 1979, aged simply 19, she wed singer Sandi Easton.
The primary of her 4 unions solely lasted eight months, by which period Sheena – who determined to maintain her married identify – was doing The Massive Time.
The BBC present was a mixture of documentary and actuality TV because it charted the hopes and goals of everybody from a trainer coaching to be a wrestler to a curate refashioning himself as a Each day Mail cartoonist.
Sheena Easton was the present’s break-out star. In a July 1980 episode she was proven auditioning for a report contract with recommendation from the likes of Lulu and Dusty Springfield, touchdown mentioned contract with EMI and releasing her first single Trendy Lady.
In keeping with the singer now, that report contract was a fait accompli. Researchers had been searching for candidates for the Rantzen present and honed in on the academy in Scotland as a attainable supply. Somebody advisable Easton, who was invited to audition and mentioned ‘Sure’.
“I simply knew I wished to take my singing additional and in the event that they’d mentioned ‘Any person needs to audition you to sing for a marriage’ then I’d have been ‘Wonderful’. I simply went alongside as a result of it was one other probability to sing for any person, not as a result of I realised the place it would lead me.”
She was informed they have been going to take six ladies to EMI, with the prospect of the perfect one making a single. However then Sheena acquired a name saying “We’ve determined we’re not taking six, we’re simply taking you” and was knowledgeable that EMI wished to signal her as a recording artist with a seven-album deal.
The label paired her with Christopher Neil, a former actor (he’d finished Jesus Christ Celebrity on stage and was in Rock Follies and a few these 70s Adventures Of… intercourse comedies) who had turned to songwriting and producing.
He’d already had hits with Paul Nicholas (Grandma’s Occasion), Marshall Hain (Dancing In The Metropolis) and Greenback (I Wanna Maintain Your Hand) and would go on to work with Shakin’ Stevens, Mike + The Mechanics, Celine Dion, Cher, A-ha and others.
Neil produced Sheena’s first three albums and Easton felt the selection was a wise transfer on EMI’s half. “They didn’t simply go ‘Proper, go sing Over The Rainbow or another cowl’, they introduced on this high producer for me to work with.”
A singer however not a songwriter, she nonetheless had some enter into her materials; Neil would give her tape after tape of songs to take heed to and he or she’d decide those she appreciated.
“It was about trusting Chris, who had nice style and who knew what would work for my voice, to carry me a alternative of songs. So I had a little bit little bit of an element in choosing the hits.” She smiles. “However then I’m additionally responsible of choosing those that have been garbage!”
Her picture was very 80s: permed hair, numerous make-up, a jumpsuit or two, and loads of spandex.
“The spandex was all me,” Sheena confesses. “You speak about a younger child coming from a school atmosphere with actually no cash, then all of a sudden I used to be thrust into the limelight the place individuals anticipated me to decorate fancy – and that was my concept of fancy.”
She remembers making the 9 To five video when MTV was nonetheless in its infancy. “I had a jumpsuit on, with a very dangerous perm, my very own make-up, no stylist something as a result of the movies weren’t subtle again then.”
When the tune turned a smash, the schedule went into overdrive; “I had my life mapped out for me for the following 18 months. You’ve acquired the Australian report firm calling, Germany, Switzerland, France and, after all, the States – which is so big it could take you a complete month to get round solely a 3rd of it.”
Shifting to America wasn’t a calculated transfer – it was extra all the way down to the truth that Sheena was sick of residing in accommodations, so she purchased a house to make use of as a base.
It meant she was there to gather her first Grammy for 1982’s Greatest New Artist (the second would come three years later for the quite extra area of interest Greatest Mexican-American Efficiency for a duet with Latino celebrity Luis Miguel) and to have a good time a No.4 Billboard inserting for For Your Eyes Solely.
Penned by Invoice Conti and Mick Leeson and produced by Christopher Neil, For Your Eyes Solely is arguably one of many best-ever Bond themes (from arguably one of many not-so-great Bond motion pictures) however Easton is modest about it. An enormous Shirley Bassey fan, she declares:
“I don’t suppose you may high Diamonds Are Eternally.” However she thinks her 007 tune is “fairly good” and credit Neil for the sonar sounds that give it an underwater really feel, saying: “I feel the environment he created is what actually introduced the magic to it.”
Sheena Easton made historical past as the one singer of a Bond tune to seem within the opening credit, then had a yo-yo time on the charts (You Might Have Been With Me was a High 20 hit in America however a flop right here, whereas Equipment didn’t do a lot on both facet of the pond, although Norway liked it) earlier than a duet with Kenny Rogers on a 1983 rejig of Bob Seger’s We’ve Bought Tonight put her again within the US High 10.
The next yr noticed the beginning of her most electrical pairing when Prince composed the now-legendary Sugar Partitions below the identify Alexander Nevermind.
The collaboration happened as a result of they have been each recording in close by studios and sharing the identical husband-and-wife sound engineer staff.
Prince had seen Sheena on Johnny Carson’s Tonight present a few nights earlier than. “Apparently, he acquired an concept to write down this tune for me. He despatched over a demo and mentioned if I appreciated it I ought to name him up and report it.”
With its extremely suggestive lyrics, Sugar Partitions was the primary of a number of hook-ups between the pair, essentially the most well-known, after all, being 1987’s U Bought The Look. Prince had already recorded the tune when he invited Easton to return into the studio and do just a few backing vocals.
“However I used to be out of synch, making an attempt to meet up with it, and he went ‘Ooh, I like that’ and turned it right into a duet on the spot.”
There have been different collaborations Sheena wasn’t so proud of, just like the 1985 Do You album she made with Nile Rodgers. The dance-pop LP solely reached No. 40 in America and didn’t chart at throughout right here.
“Wanting again, it was an enormous mistake,” she sighs. “I feel as artists we simply didn’t gel, and it’s the album I’m most disenchanted by.”
The Lover In Me, produced in 1988 by the likes of L.A. Reid and Babyface with Prince donating a few tracks below the alias Joey Coco, was a happier expertise.
A observe from the album, Observe My Rainbow, was featured on Miami Vice when Sheena performed a singer whom Don Johnson’s Sonny Crockett was assigned to guard and went on to marry on the finish of her five-episode arc.
There have been a pair extra US albums, just a few that solely got here out in Japan (the place she’s all the time had an enormous following), then the Fabulous disco covers assortment marked the tip of Sheena Easton’s recording profession so far – although the singer insists that was predominantly her alternative.
Within the early-90s she’d already begun to ease herself off the album-promotion-tour treadmill, opting as a substitute to do Man Of La Mancha and Grease on Broadway, then shifting to Vegas together with her two adopted kids.
Requested if she has any plans to make one other report, Sheena shakes her head.
“I don’t contemplate myself a recording artist at this level and I’m concentrating on forty second Road. It’s such an iconic present and simply to be part of it’s one thing I couldn’t flip down. I need to give it my all.”
Having saved busy over the previous 17 years doing symphonic concert events and hits-packed reveals – largely within the States, with the occasional foray to Australia and Japan – she’s not ruling out performing for UK followers once more sooner or later.
“However not till the musical is over. There’s no method I’m doing eight reveals every week, then doing gigs on my day without work.” Sheena smiles. “I’m not a younger child anymore.”